R.I.P. George Segal, Oscar-nominated comedy legend of TV and film
George Segal broke out into the mainstream after his performance in the 1966 classic Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? Segal played Nick, a young man who gets stuck in the middle of an older couple’s drunken fight at a dinner party. Though still early in his career, Segal held his own with costars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. He even received an Oscar nomination for his efforts.
Segal’s first onscreen credits came just six years earlier in two Play of the Week Broadway productions videotaped for television. It was a fitting start to a career that owed enormous success to theatrical adaptations.
In 1961, Segal won his first movie role – a small part in the medical drama The Young Doctors starring Ben Gazzara and Eddie Albert. The next year he appeared in John Wayne’s D-Day epic The Longest Day. After acting on TV shows like Naked City and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Segal’s first lead film role came in 1965’s King Rat.
Segal’s early career in film was defined mostly by dramas. In addition to Virginia Wolf and King Rat, there was spy thriller The Quiller Memorandum and violent mob drama The St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
But his genial personality and comedy chops shined on 1960s television, where he played banjo with the Smothers brothers and made multiple appearances on The Match Game.
The 1970s saw Segal really come into his own. He starred in The Owl and the Pussycat opposite Barbra Streisand, The Hot Rock with Robert Redford, Robert Altman’s California Split, and the original Fun with Dick and Jane — not to mention Carl Reiner's dark comedy Where's Poppa?
In the 1980s, Segal had a series of interesting flops. In the film Carbon Copy, he played a rich, white executive who finds out he has a black son he never knew about. Segal starred alongside a young actor in his first big-screen role — Denzel Washington.
A few years later on TV, Segal lead the sitcom Take Five, about a man who starts a Dixieland band in San Francisco. It utilized his real-life musical talent but only aired two mere episodes before getting canceled. The drama series Murphy's Law, with Segal as an alcoholic insurance investigator, was also canceled during the first season.
But his career soon bounced back. One of his most well-known roles came in the late 1990s/early 2000s sitcom Just Shoot Me! He played the father of Laura San Giacomo’s Maya, who inadvertently becomes her boss.
George Segal never retired from acting, most recently playing the family patriarch in the nostalgic sitcom The Goldbergs. He passed away this week at the age of 87.